How Joy Became the New Grit

Schools are increasingly manipulating students’ emotions in the name of achievementand that’s wrong says University of Pennsylvania education professor Joan Goodman…

By Joan Goodman
*No excuses* charter schools face a teaching predicament. Their long school day/year with few diverting extra-curricular activities and heavily rule-impactgoverned pedagogy is tough on students. Inevitably, strict behavior restrictions, aimed not just at controlling common misbehaviors but also behaviors that might lead to misbehavior, result in a gulf between student desires and teacher demands. To close the gulf and avoid constantly admonishing students, charter management organizations have layered onto their culture an expectation that learning is to be approached joyously. Indeed, joy has been elevated to a central value at many CMOs.

The j-factor
Uncommon Schools promotes *joy* as one of its five values; Democracy Prep advertises a *joyous culture* with enthusiasm as one of its DREAM values; Mastery lists *joy and humor* among its nine core values; and Achievement First includes the child’s joy in its assessments of  student progress. Success Academy says that, along with rigor, its schools stress *humor (joy)…making achieving exhilarating and fun!* Meanwhile, KIPP includes joy’s close cousin, *zest,* as one of the seven character strengths on its Character Growth Card. Chicago’s Noble Network has likewise embraced *zest.* According to Doug Lemov, a major source of CMO pedagogy, the Joy Factor, one of his 49 essential techniques, is *a key driver not just of a happy classroom but of a high-achieving classroom…. people work harder…when their work is punctuated regularly by moment of exultation and joy.*

When I first began visiting no excuses schools, I was struck by the striking juxtaposition of teachers presiding over silent class periods during which children diligently followed instructions, only to interrupt them periodically with the demand for reciprocal clapping, rhymed motivational cheers, and choral responses that seemed more appropriate to an athletic or marching event than an academic environment. The effort of schools to whoop up excitement appeared artificial and disingenuous given the often tedious tasks students were assigned, and the passive/receptive role they were, for the most part, expected to assume.

Stimulating this shallow ‘joy’ is, then, just another control technique designed to foster high achievement. Joy has become a ‘character strength,’ like grit, because of the results it produces, not for its own sake.

The intentional artifice is particularly clear in teacher training videos, when leaders like Lemov, or Doug McCurry of Achievement First, talk about how teachers must be skilled at quickly turning arousal on and quickly turning it off so that it serves its purpose – aiding their academic objectives. Stimulating this shallow *joy* is, then, just another control technique designed to foster high achievement. Joy has become a *character strength,* like grit, because of the results it produces, not for its own sake.

Just add sparkle
To elicit joy, the CMOs use emotional arousal techniques such as choral chanting, finger snapping, and gestural sequences. For instance, to lend *sparkle* to a lesson, Lemov advocates the Vegas Technique. This entails breaks from instruction, as brief as 30 seconds, for a ritualized routine loosely associated with the lesson. Students might, for example, do an action-verb shimmy, clap a routine to accompany a pronoun, or perform a vocabulary word charade. Achievement First’s McCurry advises teachers to plan *joyous interludes* by using four chants accompanied with gestures and 10 cheers per class. One chant, for example, is: *hey hey hey, I feel all-right,* followed with a stomp. The phrase is repeated with two stomps, then three stomps and finished off with: *I feel motivated to learn. And graduate college.*

KIPP defines chanting as a key component of *KIPPnotizing,* the process by which students come to identify with the school and its culture. As this student-family handbook from KIPP Triumph Academy, St Louis Middle School explains:

Chanting at KIPP Triumph begins in summer school, where all new students learn a series of school wide chants. For 5th graders, learning to chant their multiplication tables during summer school is an essential part of their KIPPnotizing. Since many of our students arrive so far below grade level, they often have significant deficits in terms of their multiplication facts. However, when set to a chant, students—even our most struggling students—are able to learn all of their times tables in a few weeks.

The following jingles from KIPP are illustrative:

kippnotize

A is for audacious
What could be wrong with teachers using stomps, chants and *sparkle* as a means of generating *joy* in their students? For one, the chants, like those from KIPP have little to do with learning and less to do with education; indeed, they may work against it. Education is not recitation; it is becoming knowledgeable and curious about our human heritage—physical and cultural—about the properties of the universe from atoms to galaxies, about the heights and depths of civilizations, about current threats to the biosphere and the dignity of living beings. History is a dramatic story of events and dilemmas, brave and principled heroes, vain and villainous deeds that should stir reason and emotions. Claps and jingles get in the way of this pursuit. A better antidote to low interest is a fascinating rather than fast-paced, even frantic lesson.

Emotional manipulation?
But there is something more disturbing at work here than abetting memorization rather than deeper learning. Educators at no excuses schools assume the Image result for joyauthority to manufacture emotional states in students in the service of academic achievement, while at the same time disallowing genuine emotional states – anger for example – when they interfere with teaching. They stimulate *joy* so that their students will greet the strict codes of discipline and daunting academic expectations at these schools with eagerness and excitement.  But genuine joy cannot be canned or imposed. As C.S. Lewis described it, true joy is experienced as descending upon us, stabbing us unexpectedly; unlike pleasure, it is not in our power to procure. Real joy must come from within.  While it is possible to set the stage for a joyous experience, it is inauthentic, even manipulative, to demand, regulate, and use *joy* to improve a test score or make students pliant to authority figures.

That is not to say schools shouldn’t plan for fun, have games, skits, songs as a release from work, or sometimes to facilitate rote learning. It is also true that through such activities there is important social learning and opportunities for inventiveness.  But that is qualitatively different from stimulating a culture that imposes bursts of joy, excitement, zest. The harder, more essential, task is to stimulate genuine intrinsic interest in students rather than externally induced transient excitement. We’ve known since Piaget that without significant and authentic input from students themselves, without engagement through interaction, learning will be a collection of evanescent bits and pieces; hardly joyous.

Joan Goodman is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a psychologist. She did an interview with EduShyster in 2013 about The High Cost of No Excuses.

Send tips and comments to jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com.

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21 Comments

  1. Authenticity is so much more important than canned joy. Kids’s joy in school should be derived from learning they are doing, the engaging intellectual tasks they are tackling – whether math problem solving, coding Lego robots, reading engaging literature, studying sophisticated social studies topics, or doing a science experiment – and their positive relationships with their teachers and peers.

    1. Very glad you approve but also curious about how you regard the examples she mentions – as I think of you as being on the same team as these networks. And is authenticity possible among a teacher work force that is being trained for short term stints? Or is “joy” in the way it’s being defined here a substitute for authenticity?

      1. Let’s take multiplication facts. When KIPP gets kids in 5th grade, many of their students coming from district schools don’t know their facts. In order to be efficient in 5th grade math, times table are crucial. If the chants get kids to learn their facts quicker, I can see why as school might get behind that. If we shine the light on KIPP and say, well, this is lousy practice (and I’m not sure it is, in this case – remembering the lyrics to songs is way easier than memorizing poems of similar length), we also have to remember that they are looking to remediate a problem that did not start with them. It started at the district school level. I would argue that 98%+ of all kids can memorize their facts if the teachers and school are on point.

        Remember, many of the chants came from a district school teacher, Harriet Ball, that Mike and Dave taught with back in their TFA days. A successful, veteran African-American teacher, her use of these techniques would be nothing if not authentic to HER. Whether KIPP has gone overboard in their use of them is another story. And whether it is a shortcut / replacement to authenticity for the young teachers at KIPP is something I can’t really comment about.

        Something to remember about TLaC is that Lemov watched hundreds of teachers’ moves before boiling them down into the 49 moves in the book. I would bet that authenticity and joyfulness were one and the same in the teachers that inspired j-factor. But it takes time. So maybe you’re right that it doesn’t show up in teachers who are only there for short stints.

        As for being on the same team: I think we have the same goals, similar results (I like to think ours are better, but that’s just my opinion), and different strategues. Would I want to teach at a school with lots of chanting? No. But I prefer that to a school where kids weren’t learning? In a heartbeat.

        1. Remediating a shortcoming in math facts is not the same as producing authentic joy. Authentic joy is not the same as authentic learning, and vice versa. Joy *may* happen spontaneously while chanting, say, math facts, but to perform a chant and tick the “Joy” box? Nuh-uh.

          1. There’s that word again, “authentic”.

            How do you justify an education system in which 5th graders come in not knowing their times tables? In which even the barest and most rudimentary standards of discipline are neglected? You just throw in the word, “authentic”! Sure, the kids don’t know anything and are gallavanting around the classroom unrestrained by any measure of order or discipline, but look at how authentic ™ it is! Give us a raise.

            I had been delinquent in my charter donations up to this point. This blog has renewed my sense of purpose.

  2. Does anyone have a sense about how many charter schools are “no excuse” charter schools? If we add up the total number of schools mentioned here as no excuse charter schools, we get

    Uncommon Schools: 49 schools
    Democracy Prep: 19 schools
    Mastery Schools: 24 schools
    Achievement First: 32 schools
    Success Academy: 22 schools
    KIPP: the website says over 200 schools, lets say 250 to be safe
    Noble School: 18 schools

    Total “no excuses” charter schools mentioned: 414 as of 2016
    Total number of charter schools: 6,465 (in 2014, the latest number I could easily get from the NCES)

    The “no excuses” charter schools mentioned here are about 6.5% of all the charter schools in the country. Lets double that number and say 13% of charter schools are no excuse charter schools. What do folks think about the 87% of charter schools that are not “no excuse” charter schools?

    1. Alas sir, I fear you are missing the highly-aligned forest for the data trees. The networks Goodman mentions aren’t just the operators of a relatively small number of charters, they are THE charters that are being held up as a model for the future of urban education. The Secretary of Education, John King, is an Uncommon guy, and Relay Graduate School of Education, which is rapidly emerging as THE model of training urban teachers, gets a special shout out in the new federal regs for teacher prep. This is the future for schooling – period. Not just for charters but for urban education. As far as determining the precise number of no excuses schools, I’d start with this AEI paper which argues that there is a lot of diversity in the charter sector – and a lot of no excuses schools, particularly in urban areas with large numbers of African American students: https://www.aei.org/publication/measuring-diversity-in-charter-school-offerings/

      1. I would say that “no-excuse” charter schools do not represent the future of education any more than military schools represent the future of private K-12 education. I would look at the Montessori based charters, the rural charters, the great books charters, the language immersion schools, the…..well the all sorts of things that charter schools can be because they do not need to be all things to all people that happen to live in a catchment area.

        The AEI paper you link to found that 101 charter schools out of the 1,151 schools they looked at identified themselves as “no-excuses” charter schools, well below my 13% back of the envelope estimate of the share of “no-excuses” charter schools.

        Madam, the question remains: what do you think about the at least 87% of charter schools that are not “no-excuses” charter schools? What of the equal number of progressive schools identified in the paper that you cite? Should all charter schools be closed, or should there be a more nuanced discussion about charter schools?

        Here, once again, is one of the schools that would be closed if we eliminated charter schools: https://youtu.be/HQT2uwDXcF0?t=6 . I have no idea why anyone would think that closing this school is a good idea, though I must admit, Dr. Ravitch has specifically stated her opposition to this school.

        1. I’m searching for a metaphor here. Searching. Searching. Ah yes – imagine if you had a blog about economics in which you weighed in on systemic issues and trends that you understood pretty well, in part because you read a lot and also talked to a great many people. And I stopped by with some regularity to share a Youtube video of a small family hardware store. In other words, touching, a little puzzling and almost completely irrelevant. The era of letting 1,000 charter schools bloom has been over for quite a while. We’ve moved onto scale and replication. You are correct to point out that the networks Goodman singles out are relatively small actors. The dominant charter managers that lead the US in student enrollment have, well, less shiny brands: White Hat, National Heritage, Charter Schools USA. The kind of folks who leave one feeling in desperate need of inspiration. Anyone know where I can see a feel-good video of a charter that saved a town???

          1. Madam,

            Teaching has been my life for well over thirty years and something over 10,000 students. I to read a lot about teaching, and talk to many many knowledgeable people about teaching. If I may ask, how many students have you taught in order to understand pretty much understand teaching.

            If, on my blog, I claimed that all small town hardware stores had been destroyed by big box chains like home depot and therefore we should make hardware stores illegal, your youtube video would be a valid demonstration that I was in fact incorrect that all small town hardware stores had been destroyed. You might legitimately ask me if I know the percentage of hardware sales at large box chains and if those chains had increased or decreased market share in the last, say, five years. I would certainly think it a reasonable question and if I claimed that big box stores were the future of the hardware market I should be able to answer those challenges. If my answer was that 13% of hardware sales happened in big box stores and I had no idea if that was in increase or decrease compared to the last five years, you would perhaps doubt my claim.

            Lets continue to add up charter chains.

            White Hat has 41 schools, so not as large as Uncommon Schools. Charter USA is larger at 76 schools, and the largest is National Heritage with 85 schools. To give you an idea of scale, White Hat and National Heritage combined operate about as many schools as Boston Public. Together, all three of your “industry leaders” have far fewer schools than KIPP.

            I doubt that these chains will grow any larger because there are not really any scale economies in education with our current technology. If there were, NYC Public, with over 1,000,000 students, would be able to educate students at a much lower cost than Boston Public, with only 56,650 students. A school is about a teacher, typically a classroom, and students. Double the students, you double the teachers and double the rooms. You have basically doubled the cost. Sure there are some common services in a school like food preparation, cleaning, etc, but not enough to really make a difference between the cost per student of educating 56,000 students and the cost of educating 1,000,000 students.

          2. 30 years??? Had I but known I would have enlisted your help w/ the non-edu manuscript I’m hard at work on – a monograph about Harvard labor economist John Dunlop. I’ve been twisted up in knots all week trying to explain the end of Nixon’s wage and price controls, specifically the attempt to “spread the bulge” of inflation. Would have been very helpful to be able to call upon a contemporary!

            Now, to the question of scale and the increasing dominance of education management organizations, this is a development that has been well documented. Bruce Baker and Gary Miron provide a useful history here: http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/rb_baker-miron_charter_revenue_0.pdf They estimate that EMOs now operate between 35-40% of charter schools in the US, educating over 1.2 million students – and rising. As for arguing that “I doubt that these chains will grow any larger because there are not really any scale economies in education with our current technology,” I can only say, huh?

            The point being is that this is a documented trend – not just some wild big box conspiracy that I’m throwing out. Back to Nixon – he’s just about to resign!

          3. I am allways happy to talk about economics. Could you go into more detail about why your twisted up in knots?

            Back to economics of scale in education. Looking at footnote 19 about the source of the estimate in the NCEP paper you linked to is instructive as it leads to the EMO Profiles Report 14 (I could not find EMO Profile Report 15 that is promised in the footnote, so we are stuck using data from 2011-12)

            EMOs may be a relatively popular way to organize school administration, but that does not mean that individual EMOs are large or will inevitably grow larger. According to the EMO Profile Report 14, the average for profit EMO manages a little over 8.5 schools while the average non-profit EMO manages 6 schools. The 17 large for profit EMOs mange an average of about 37 schools each, the 31 large non-profit EMOs mange an average of 20 schools. The largest EMO, KIPP, manages a tiny fraction of charter schools in the country.

            The 201 EMOs listed in the report managed schools with a combined total of around 908,000 students. New York City Public manages schools with a combined total of over 1,000,000 students. If scale economies were important, NYC Public would be far more efficient at educating students than any of the relativity tiny EMOs listed in the NCEP study.

            Do you really want to make the claim that NYC Public is the most efficient educational organization in the country?

          4. I’ve just finished a book you should read – it’s breezy yet substantive, written by deep believers in what they call “chartering” but also aware of paradoxes, pitfalls, etc. http://hepg.org/hep-home/books/charter-schools-at-the-crossroads. I feel like it’s exactly the thing to move our conversations forward!

            Fortunately I untwisted myself from my wage and price control knots and have now moved onto a now obscure footnote of history that was once, believe it or not, a front-page dispute: situs picketing.

          5. I look forward to reading it. Economists generally understand the world as a set of trade offs, so the idea that charter schools have some advantages over traditional public schools and some disadvantages over traditional public schools is very natural.

            Have I convinced you that it is extremely unlikely that any single EMO is unlikely to manage a significant fraction of the charter schools in the country? You would have one less thing to worry about.

            Situs picketing is pretty interesting and has an important place in labor law. Good luck with your footnote.

  3. The logical extension of the premise, implicit in the Age of Accountability, that students are there to serve the needs of the school. Also, appalling.

    1. If students were the center of traditional school education, high schools would start at 9 or 10 in the morning, not 7 or 8.

      Schools reflect the interests of students to some degree, parents to some degree, teachers to some degree, and other citizens to some degree.

    2. The problem with the neighborhood public schools is — that while they do an adequate job educating students — they are abysmal in teaching personal responsibility and accountability. This is why a significant number of traditional school students come out unprepared for the real world. They demand safe zones, trigger warnings, and think they should protest anyone who has a different view point than their own. They also believe “everyone should get a ribbon,” even though the real world is quite competitive and selective.

      Elementary age kids can easily sing the jingles they learn from jingles and can recite the lyrics from songs that they may not even understand. The positive chants are not going to warp their minds.

      Parents place their children in charter schools — or even religious ones — by choice, frequently because they are dissatisfied with what the neighborhood public school is offering. It is not anyone’s place to tell them their choice is wrong.

      As a society, we will never agree on how to educate our children. There should, then, be as much choice available to parents in making that all important decision.

  4. “KIPP defines chanting as a key component of *KIPPnotizing,* the process by which students come to identify with the school and its culture.”

    Rather chilling that they use the term “KIPPnotizing” themselves. Sounds like something students would say when griping about KIPP. But, hey, score one for honesty!

  5. The only question I had about this article is, “Did anyone ask the kids?” The assumption is that the kids find this all disingenuous, but maybe they don’t. And the assumption also is that this may impede education, but is there any evidence of that? So I hear what she’s saying, looking at this. It seems forced and weird and well, not joyous. But unless the consumers (kids, parents, community) agree, I’m not sure that it matters what others think without evidence of actual educational impairment.

  6. The problem with the neighborhood public schools is — that while they do an adequate job educating students — they are abysmal in teaching personal responsibility and accountability. This is why a significant number of traditional school students come out unprepared for the real world. They demand safe zones, trigger warnings, and think they should protest anyone who has a different view point than their own. They also believe “everyone should get a ribbon,” even though the real world is quite competitive and selective.

    Elementary age kids can easily sing the jingles they learn from commercials and can recite the lyrics from songs that they may not even understand. These positive chants are not going to warp their minds.

    Parents place their children in charter schools — or even religious ones — by choice, frequently because they are dissatisfied with what the neighborhood public school is offering. It is not anyone’s place to tell them their choice is wrong.

    As a society, we will never agree on how to educate our children. There should, then, be as much choice available to parents in making that all important decision.

  7. […] are deeply colonial (ie Euro-American), and go beyond science education. These are the same transmission-based pedagogies found in the incredibly popular pedagogical handbook Teach Like A Champion (Lemov, year), which is […]

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